Peter De Wint

River Scene at Sunset


Not on display
Peter De Wint 1784–1849
Oil paint on paper mounted onto cardboard
Unconfirmed: 307 x 460 mm
frame: 435 x 588 x 70 mm
Presented by Agnew's to celebrate the Tate Gallery Centenary 1997


De Wint is best known as a watercolour artist; however, he launched his career as a painter in oil and continued to use the medium throughout his life. His plein air oil sketches, of which this is a striking example, are usually dated to the beginning of his career, around 1810, but firm evidence on the dating is lacking.

Between 1802 and 1808 De Wint was apprenticed to the portrait painter and mezzotint engraver John Raphael Smith. Smith would take him on fishing expeditions by the Thames, during which De Wint would sketch in oils. De Wint gained an early release from his apprenticeship on condition that he paint eighteen landscapes of various sizes for Smith over a two year period. The river depicted in this study has not been identified but could well be the Thames.

Further reading:
Hammond Smith, Peter De Wint 1784-1849, London 1982, pp.62-70

Terry Riggs
October 1997

Display caption

Although De Wint is remembered as a watercolourist, he was first trained as an oil painter. Between 1802 and 1808 he was apprenticed to the portrait painter and engraver John Raphael Smith, who took him on expeditions by the Thames, De Wint sketching in oils while Smith fished. De Wint gained early release from his apprenticeship on condition that he painted eighteen landscapes of various sizes for Smith over a two-year period. The river depicted in this study has not been identified but could well be the Thames.

Gallery label, August 2004

Technique and condition

The painting support consists of very thin cardboard with a textured paper surface, which appears to have been adhered to the cardboard as a separate entity. Wrinkles in the surface of the painting, consistent with ridges of wet paper which have not been stuck evenly and then crushed, indicate that the surface paper was an independent layer. Microscope examination of the edges also revealed a distinct looking layer on the top, which has an uneven edge, whereas the cardboard has been cut straight, (lower left corner and lower right corner). The texture of the surface paper is different to the texture of the reverse of the cardboard. Whereas the cardboard is relatively smooth with long fibres visible to the naked eye, the paper is textured with peaks and hollows and the fibres that are visible appear short. The reverse of the card is degraded and yellowed. Dark brown brittle stripes indicate that it was originally fitted with a slatted wooden backboard, and the uneven exposure to light and air has caused local degradation and acidification. These points are the most vulnerable and the support could snap if not supported when handled. There is extensive staining on the reverse, possibly mould and woodworm holes.

The surface paper is sized with animal glue (not tested) and has received a washy dark brown priming layer which has pooled in the hollows of the paper texture and left the peaks bare. This creates a warm mottled appearance instead of a block of colour. The landscape is painted in leaving large areas of the priming and bare sized paper visible, to contribute to the mottled earth appearance. The sky is the most highly finished area. Sweeping brushstrokes are visible and it is mostly solid colour with tiny areas of ground exposed where the brush has skipped over a hollow. The sky finishes where it meets the foliage of the trees, which are a combination of thinly painted areas where the priming is allowed to play an important role and thick impasto. The artist appears to have loaded his brush with several different colours at once and mixed them on the painting, creating streaked colourful touches instead of single colours. The foliage is feathered into the sky, wet in wet and in places the sky has been extended over the foliage as a pentimento.

The painting has an even glossy varnish which appears relatively recent and is easily disrupted as is evident from abrasion around the edges.

Annette King
September 1997


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